I have two little girls. They are extremely sweet and loving, but at times they become selfish and hurt each other. As parents it is our job to help them restore the relationship to rebuild the love and trust they feel for each other. My wife and I walk them through steps of confession, saying they are sorry and usually ending with a hug.
Have you ever watched people confess a mistake when they are being made to do it? Sometimes my girls say the words but never look at their sister. They go through the routine but you don’t feel that it really took. Are we going through this process all wrong? Here are a few interactions with Jesus that show us how to make a good confession.
The Woman Caught in Adultery Never Confessed
A woman was brought to Jesus that was caught in the act of adultery. The question of her sin was never an issue. She was guilty, and the crowd that brought her was mad. What does Jesus do?… He writes in the sand. He waits for some time. Then he stands up to say that he who is without sin may cast the first stone. As he goes back to writing in the sand, the crowd disperses.
There are a few things we see from Jesus’ interaction:
1. He defuses the situation. There was an angry crowd that was stirring up a mob mentality. Others around the person who commits a mistake often want justice. I know this particular crowd was also created to catch Jesus in a trap, but you can see that justice was not Jesus’ primary objective.
2. He defuses the fear. When the crowd left, I assume she was still nervous of how Jesus would react. Jesus acknowledges that her accusers have left and assures her that He didn’t condemn her either. Jesus was not looking to make her feel bad for her sin.
3. He doesn’t condone sin. Don’t misread the passage. Jesus is not saying the sin is ok. He leaves her with the commission to not sin. The point is Jesus values the person of the sin. He values the person over making them confess.
Peter Also Never Confessed
Peter also made a mistake. At a very crucial moment in Jesus’ life, everyone was leaving Him, but Peter had said he would stay with Jesus until the end. He not only also left Jesus, He denied Him three times. After the resurrection, the disciples decide to go fishing, and after a night of catching nothing, a man appears on the shore telling them to cast the net one more time.
This time they catch as many as the net would hold. John tells Peter, “Hey, I think that is Jesus.” Then Peter starts acting crazy. He puts on his clothes, then jumps in the water. He gets to shore, then runs back to the boat. He grabs the net of fish away from the other disciples and drags it to shore by himself.
The point this shows is that whatever Peter had done after he denied Jesus did not ease the uneasiness on his heart. He wanted to be with Jesus, but he wasn’t sure if he would be received back to the same level. This is what leads into Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter.
Here are a few things we see from Jesus in this interaction:
1. Peter never confesses. It may be better to say that the Bible did not find it important to record Peter’s confession. Whatever the case, Peter’s confession was not Jesus’ primary concern.
2. Do you love me? Instead of a confession, Jesus wanted to know one thing from Peter, “do you love me?”. The point we get is that if we love Jesus, the rest will work itself out. I will not say that confession is not important, but it is clear the main objective is the question of love.
How to Make a Good Confession
The passage with the woman caught in adultery shows us how to get someone to confess. Peter shows us how to confess. To get someone to confess, our main objective is to show that they are more important than the mistake they made. Confession motivated by guilt or fear does not bring sincerity. They may motivate the words we are looking for, but they will not motivate the heart. The heart will close up to protect itself from it. Love is the only key to open the heart.
To make a good confession for a mistake we have done, we need to communicate love for the person we have hurt. The point of a confession is to realize if I am going to love you well, I will not do things that will hurt you. The exact words, “I have sinned”, “I’m sorry”, and “Will you forgive me?” may or may not be important, but they are definitely not as important as the love communicated. Love covers a multitude of sin. Will we love to that level?